A brief about Nalanda University
Nalanda is the name of an ancient center of higher learning in Bihar, India. The site of Nalanda is located in the Indian state of Bihar, about 55 miles south east of Patna, and was a Buddhist center of learning from the fifth or sixth century CE to 1197 CE. It has been called “one of the first great universities in recorded history”. The Gupta Empire also patronized some monasteries. According to historians, Nalanda flourished between the reign of the Śakrāditya (whose identity is uncertain and who might have been either Kumara Gupta I or Kumara Gupta II) and 1197 CE, supported by patronage from Buddhist emperors like Harsha as well as later emperors from the Pala Empire.
The complex was built with red bricks and its ruins occupy an area of 14 hectares. At its peak, the university attracted scholars and students from as far away as China, Greece, and Persia. Nalanda was ransacked and destroyed by Turkic Muslim invaders under Bakhtiyar Khalji in 1193. The great library of Nalanda University was so vast that it is reported to have burned for three months after the invaders set fire to it, ransacked and destroyed the monasteries, and drove the monks from the site. In 2006, Singapore, China, India, Japan, and other nations, announced a proposed plan to restore and revive the ancient site as Nalanda International University.
The Chinese pilgrim-monk Xuanzang gives several explanations of the name Nālandā. One is that it was named after the Nāga who lived in a tank in the middle of the mango grove. Another – the one he accepted – is that Shakyamuni Buddha once had his capital here and gave “alms without intermission”, hence the name.
Sariputta died at the village called ‘Nalaka,’ which is also identified as Nalanda by many scholars.
Founding of the university and the Gupta heyday
Some historical studies suggest that the University of Nalanda was established during the reign of a king called Śakrāditya. Both Xuanzang and Prajñavarman cite him as the founder, as does a seal discovered at the site.
As historian Sukumar Dutt describes it, the history of Nalanda university “falls into two main divisions–first, one of growth, development and fruition from the sixth century to the ninth, when it was dominated by the liberal cultural traditions inherited from the Gupta age; the second, one of gradual decline and final dissolution from the ninth century to the thirteen–a period when the tantric developments of Buddhism became most pronounced in eastern India.”
In the Pāla era
A number of monasteries grew up during the Pāla period in ancient Bengal and Magadha. According to Tibetan sources, five great Mahaviharas stood out: Vikramashila, the premier university of the era; Nalanda, past its prime but still illustrious, Somapura, Odantapurā, and Jaggadala. The five monasteries formed a network; “all of them were under state supervision” and there existed “a system of co-ordination among them . . it seems from the evidence that the different seats of Buddhist learning that functioned in eastern India under the Pāla were regarded together as forming a network, an interlinked group of institutions,” and it was common for great scholars to move easily from position to position among them.
During the Pālā period, the Nālānda was less singularly outstanding, as other Pāla establishments “must have drawn away a number of learned monks from Nālānda when all of them . . came under the aegis of the Pālās.”
Decline and end
In 1193, the Nalanda University was sacked by the Islamic fanatic Bakhtiyar Khilji, a Turk; this event is seen by scholars as a late milestone in the decline of Buddhism in India. The Persian historian Minhaj-i-Siraj, in his chronicle the Tabaquat-I-Nasiri, reported that thousands of monks were burned alive and thousands beheaded as Khilji tried his best to uproot Buddhism and plant Islam by the sword; the burning of the library continued for several months and “smoke from the burning manuscripts hung for days like a dark pall over the low hills.”
The last throne-holder of Nalanda, Shakyashribhadra, fled to Tibet in 1204 CE at the invitation of the Tibetan translator Tropu Lotsawa (Khro-phu Lo-tsa-ba Byams-pa dpal). In Tibet, he started an ordination lineage of the Mulasarvastivadin lineage to complement the two existing ones.
When the Tibetan translator Chag Lotsawa (Chag Lo-tsa-ba, 1197–1264) visited the site in 1235, he found it damaged and looted, with a 90-year-old teacher, Rahula Shribhadra, instructing a class of about 70 students. During Chag Lotsawa’s time there an incursion by Turkish soldiers caused the remaining students to flee. Despite all this, “remnants of the debilitated Buddhist community continued to struggle on under scarce resources until c. 1400 CE when Chagalaraja was reportedly the last king to have patronized Nalanda.”
Ahir considers the destruction of the temples, monasteries, centers of learning at Nalanda and northern India to be responsible for the demise of ancient Indian scientific thought in mathematics, astronomy, alchemy, and anatomy.
According to some Indian historians, increasing pressure was felt on Nalanda from society over the course of the 10th century. In his Social history of India, the historian Sadasivan states, “the enormous manuscript library of the University was set on fire by Trithikas due to the mounting jealousy they nurtured against the great center of learning.”
Nalanda was one of the world’s first residential universities, i.e., it had dormitories for students. It is also one of the most famous universities. In its heyday, it accommodated over 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. The university was considered an architectural masterpiece, and was marked by a lofty wall and one gate. Nalanda had eight separate compounds and ten temples, along with many other meditation halls and classrooms. On the grounds were lakes and parks. The library was located in a nine storied building where meticulous copies of texts were produced. The subjects taught at Nalanda University covered every field of learning, and it attracted pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Tibet, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey. During the period of Harsha, the monastery is reported to have owned 200 villages given as grants.
The Tang Dynasty Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang left detailed accounts of the university in the 7th century. Xuanzang described how the regularly laid-out towers, forest of pavilions, harmikas and temples seemed to “soar above the mists in the sky” so that from their cells the monks “might witness the birth of the winds and clouds.” Xuanzang states: “An azure pool winds around the monasteries, adorned with the full-blown cups of the blue lotus; the dazzling red flowers of the lovely kanaka hang here and there, and outside groves of mango trees offer the inhabitants their dense and protective shade.”
The entrance of many of the viharas in Nalanda University ruins can be seen with a bow marked floor; the bow was the royal sign of the Guptas.
The library of Nalanda, known as Dharma Gunj (Mountain of Truth) or Dharmagañja (Treasury of Truth), was the most renowned repository of Buddhist knowledge in the world at the time. Its collection was said to comprise hundreds of thousands of volumes, so extensive that it burned for months when set aflame by Muslim invaders. The library had three main buildings as high as nine stories tall, Ratnasagara (Sea of Jewels), Ratnodadhi (Ocean of Jewels), and Ratnarañjaka (Delighter of Jewels).
Influence on Buddhism
A vast amount of what came to comprise Tibetan Buddhism, both its Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, stems from the late (9th–12th century) Nalanda teachers and traditions. The scholar Dharmakirti (ca. 7th century), one of the Buddhist founders of Indian philosophical logic, as well as and one of the primary theorists of Buddhist atomism, taught at Nalanda.
Other forms of Buddhism, such as the Mahāyāna Buddhism followed in Vietnam, China, Korea and Japan, flourished within the walls of the ancient university. A number of scholars have associated some Mahāyāna texts such as the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, an important sūtra in East Asian Buddhism, with the Buddhist tradition at Nālandā. Ron Epstein also notes that the general doctrinal position of the sūtra does indeed correspond to what is known about the Buddhist teachings at Nālandā toward the end of the Gupta period when it was translated.
According to Hwui-Li, a Chinese visitor, Nālandā was held in contempt by some Sthaviras for its emphasis on Mahayana philosophy. They reportedly chided King Harṣa for patronizing Nalanda during one of his visits to Orissa, mocking the “sky-flower” philosophy taught there and suggesting that he might as well patronize a Kapalika temple. When this occurred, Harṣa notified the chancellor of Nālandā, who sent the monks Sāgaramati, Prajñāraśmi, Siṃharaśmi, and Xuanzang to refute the views of the monks from Orissa.
A number of ruined structures survive. Nearby is the Surya Mandir, a Hindu temple. The known and excavated ruins extend over an area of about 150,000 square metres, although if Xuanzang’s account of Nalanda’s extent is correlated with present excavations, almost 90% of it remains unexcavated. Nālandā is no longer inhabited. Today the nearest habitation is a village called Bargaon. li|Pali]] (Theravadin) Buddhist studies was founded nearby by Bhikshu Jagdish Kashyap, the Nava Nalanda Mahavihara. Presently, this institute is pursuing an ambitious program of satellite imaging of the entire region.
The Nalanda Museum contains a number of manuscripts, and shows many examples of the items that have been excavated. India’s first Multimedia Museum was opened on 26 January 2008, which recreates the history of Nalanda using a 3D animation film narrated by Shekhar Suman. Besides this there are four more sections in the Multimedia Museum: Geographical Perspective, Historical Perspective, Hall of Nalanda and Revival of Nalanda.
Plans for revival
On 9 December 2006, the New York Times detailed a plan in the works to spend $1 billion to revive Nalanda University near the ancient site. A consortium led by Singapore and including China, India, Japan and other nations will attempt to raise $500 million to build a new university and another $500 million to develop necessary infrastructure.
On 28 May 2007, Merinews reported that the revived university’s enrollment will be 1,137 in its first year, and 4,530 by the fifth. In the ‘second phase’, enrolment will reach 5,812.
On 12 June 2007, News Post India reported that the Japanese diplomat Noro Motoyasu said that “Japan will fund the setting up an international university in Nalanda in Bihar”. The report goes on to say that “The proposed university will be fully residential, like the ancient seat of learning at Nalanda. In the first phase of the project, seven schools with 46 foreign faculty members and over 400 Indian academics would come up.” … “The university will impart courses in science, philosophy and spiritualism along with other subjects. A renowned international scholar will be its chancellor.”
On 15 August 2007, The Times of India reported that Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has accepted the offer to join the revived Nalanda International University sometime in September 2007.”
NDTV reported on 5 May 2008 that, according to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, the foundation of University would likely be in the year 2009 and the first teaching class could begin in a few years from then. Sen, who heads the Nalanda Mentor Group, said the final report in this regard, is expected to be presented to the East Asia Summit in December 2008.
On 11 May 2008, The Times of India reported that host nation India and a consortium of East Asian countries met in New York to further discuss Nalanda plans. It was decided that Nalanda would largely be a post-graduate research university, with the following schools: School of Buddhist studies, philosophy, and comparative religion; School of historical studies; School of International Relations and Peace; School of Business Management and Development; School of Languages and Literature; and, School of Ecology and Environmental Studies. The objective of the school was claimed to be “aimed at advancing the concept of an Asian community…and rediscovering old relationships.”
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